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It wasn’t the muscly, pumped up men or the loud grunting noises. It wasn’t my trainer showing me around the machines. And it certainly wasn’t the gym itself (I chose it for the fact that it wasn’t pretentious or full of perfect bodies, but full of real people and friendly smiles at the reception). What it was, though, were the mirrors.
I was seven months pregnant and wanted to build up my shoulder muscles ready to hold my newborn baby in just a few weeks. What I wasn’t ready for was seeing my reflection everywhere I looked. The trainer was showing me how to do some standing exercises and asked me to check that I was standing properly by looking in the mirror. He noticed that I was concentrated on my feet and he laughed, showing me that he meant I needed to look at my full body. I couldn’t, and I felt my eyes welling up with tears and got embarrassed when he noticed. I tried to explain that it felt strange seeing my huge belly from every angle possible!
But the truth was that I realized in that moment that I had been avoiding myself in the mirror for a long time. At that moment, I realized that I was afraid to really look at myself and look at my body — pregnant or not — and be real with myself about what I saw. It wasn’t just the pregnancy. It had begun long before that, probably after my first child was a few years old and the baby weight was not really a viable reason for my extra pounds anymore. Instead of being in control of my body and how it looked, I was avoiding it.
When I got home that night, I looked through my phone and saw that I had no photos of me in there. Plenty of my family and my dog, but none of me. It was quite a low moment, but also quite a breakthrough. That is probably the moment when I can say that my fitness journey began. I realized that before I could lift weights and hold my head up in the gym, I needed to be able to look myself in the eye and be proud of what I saw now. I also realized that for years I had been hoping that my body would improve and set myself goals to achieve, but I never actually did a lot to make them happen. Since I was pregnant, I decided that it would be a while before I could do anything drastic to my poor body physically, so I decided to do some small steps instead mentally until the physical side caught up.
1. Accept that this is the “me now” and start to love it, even though it is not how I wanted to stay forever. I treated myself to some beauty products instead of treating myself with food.
2. Write down how you feel. I keep a journal now not just of food but also how the food makes me feel. I actually love healthy food and eat quite well, but when I feel like there is something to celebrate or treat myself, I reach for unhealthy food which makes me feel tired and sluggish and I regret eating it later.
3. Once the baby was born, I set myself really stupidly easy goals which I feel silly even writing down. I write them every week on flip-chart paper to my bathroom door with a box to check off. I find it really nice to check off my easy goals and sometimes I exceed them, which feels even better! But it also makes me realize that although these goals felt too easy, they were actually manageable, so I wasn’t overestimating myself and then feeling bad when I didn’t reach my goals like I did in the past.
4. Listen to your body. There are probably more than a million different articles, videos and tools on getting your body into shape, which is fantastic and very useful for moving you forward. However, I needed to learn to listen again to my body. I found I was feeling great after my yoga sessions, so I decided to stick with them until I was ready to face the gym again.
5. Be real with yourself. I had to take my head out of the sand and accept that I was pregnant, and that probably afterwards I would have some work to do to get back into shape. I knew that this would not happen overnight and gave myself some time.
6. Look in the mirror! I started to do this every day and after my gorgeous baby was born I also took some photos of myself. It reminds me that my body isn’t so terrible after all but also motivates me to keep going.
7. Keep walking. A fitness journey is exactly that. Have a clear destination in mind and keep going towards it, even if you hit a few bumps. I know that I want to reach certain goals by certain times and I check up weekly that I am still going in the right direction. If I am not, then I redirect myself.
These seven hints have not made me into the perfectly fit person I might want to be, but they have made me appreciate my body a lot more and accept that it is possible to change for the worse and change for the better, but this choice lies in our hands.